Keeping me out of it

I found out this week that a recent friend has received very bad news on the health front. And soon some hard choices are going to have to be made. It will affect friends and family deeply as she is well loved and the prognosis as first described seems inevitable.

Nancy and I will be having frequent visits with her. And they probably include some hard conversations. But not hard in the way you might imagine. For me the hardest part is to keep my opinions out of the conversation. It may sound counter-intuitive for a pastor to say that. “Don’t people come to you seeking guidance and advice?” you may ask.  Yes, they do. But my opinion is not the best gift I can give them. I have scriptural authority for saying that!

Think of the story of Job. All of this really nasty stuff – death, economic loss, health, and discomfort – has afflicted the good man Job. His friends come to him. And they sit with him for seven days and seven nights – listening to him and not saying a word. Then they break their silence and share with him their considered opinions and it all falls apart. Instead of being of comfort and solace they become unhelpful as they share their opinions of his situation and give him advice that does not fit his situation or experiences.

As long as they were quietly listening and deeply being with him where he was – they were giving him a gift. But when they began to talk they left being with him and began to share from their life, their experience and were giving him their answers. Other people’s answers usually do not work with another’s life questions. When we do that we become distractions and a part of the problem.

The gift we can give is to be with another, to listen long and deeply and to reflect back to them what we hear so that they can choose a path or make a decision based on their values, and their experiences. It really does another no good to hear what I would do… because I am not them.

The gift we can give is to walk with another through their valley of shadows. Giving them companionship (if they wish it) love, support and occasionally providing factual information as they seek to make choices and decisions as is best for them.

Last September when my mother was ill she made the decision, at age 92, to have brain surgery   It was not a decision that I would have made the same  way for her. But she made it and it was hers and right for her at that time. Looking at the results from this historical perspective I could be chastising myself for not trying to talk her into choosing another option. But I saw my role with my mother and see my role with my friend as the same – to journey with them as the pass through this valley of shadows. To uphold, support, listen and reflect. To give them the gift of helping them find their answers rather than imposing mine.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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